Other Cheek

Jesus on cross

This is crucifix that hangs in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a beautiful basilica in Rome. The crucifix is very moving as the depiction of the crucifixion is likely much more realistic than what we usually see. It literally made me cry when I first saw it. This is what He had to endure so that my sins are forgiven.

Here we are, four days into Lent, and I’m lucky that I haven’t thrown my bum shoulder out of joint for all of the patting myself on the back that I’ve been doing. I have lived a simpler life, at least for the past four days. Aren’t I something? I am fulfilling my Lenten promise. I rock.

But at Mass yesterday, in his homily our deacon abruptly caught my hand at the wrist (figuratively speaking) and stopped all of my back patting by telling me that it isn’t important that I “give up” something for Lent; what I really need to do is “give in.”

We are all flawed human beings. Every single one of us. I am. Bill is. My brother and sisters are. My children and grandchildren are. My nieces and nephews are. We are flawed because we are human. That’s why God sent his Son to die an excruciating death. So that our sins are forgiven. Our sins that result from the fact that we are human. And so we are flawed. See how that works?

We need, said Deacon Gordon, to “give in” to God. Live our lives as He wants us to live. Love each other. All the time. Not just when people are behaving the way you want them to behave. All. The. Time.

Isn’t it remarkable that God loves me even when I don’t live my life the way he wants me to? Even when I use His name in anger. Even when I ignore people in need. Even when I don’t love my neighbor as myself, one of only two things Jesus — during his short life — really told us we need to do. Love God and love your neighbor.

And here’s me, dutifully going to Mass each Sunday, giving money to my church, giving up something hard for Lent, calling myself a devout Catholic, and forgetting to do something as simple as forgiving my neighbor.

Shame on me. Shame on any of us who let human things divide us from those we love. There is nothing more important than our family and friends, except for our love of God. And if you properly love God, you will love your friends and family, despite their faults.

What I came to realize as I thought about Deacon Gordon’s words was that forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean I think what they did was okay. But being angry really only hurts me. The other person gets a pass and I am imprisoned by my own fury. Forgiveness sets me free.

So I’m not giving up my Lenten resolution to live a simpler life. But I am going to be aware of the things that will bring me true joy. Not happiness, which is fleeting, but joy, which is deeper and longer-lasting.

As a final reminder (as if our deacon’s homily hadn’t hit home hard enough), towards the end of Mass, someone collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. It was a startling reminder to me that life is short and unpredictable.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.